Last week the Congressional fight over America’s debt ceiling became a full-blown hostage situation, with Republicans demanding, in exchange for what has been during previous Administrations a pro-forma procedure, major budget concessions from Democrats — and getting them.
At this writing, there seems to be a $1 trillion+/decade deal — though the details are fuzzy, perhaps purposefully so.
As some conservatives admitted early in this process, the GOP has been scoring a major pot with an awfully weak hand. But how could they miss? While the Democrats were compromising with the Republicans, the Republicans were “compromising” with their Tea Party constituents. In other words, both parties were going right.
The early versions of legislation endorsed by Speaker John Boehner, conservative as they were, drew the ire of Tea Party VIPs like Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation, who actually called for Boehner’s ouster. “Tea Party Activists Revolt Against Boehner Amid Debt Crisis,” cried Fox News. “Tea Party Wants Boehner, Obama Fired,” said US News & World Report. “Tea Party: Cut, cap and balance – not compromise,” reported the Sacramento Bee. Etc.
A number of mainstream conservatives played good cop, suggesting the tea people get in line with Boehner.
Some were gentle about it. While expressing his own “concerns,” Hugh Hewitt said that “the Speaker should announce the three members of the supercommittee he would appoint” to order cuts as part of his plan, and if these worthies were acceptable to Hugh Hewitt, “it would be a whole lot easier to stomach than if the Speaker even puts one appropriator on it.”
Others took more of a tough-love approach.”There would not be a United States of America today,” said Thomas Sowell to the mutineers, “if George Washington’s army had not retreated and retreated and retreated, in the face of an overwhelmingly more powerful British military force bent on annihilating Washington’s troops. Later, when the conditions were right for attack, General Washington attacked.”
In case the guys in tricorners weren’t satisfied with this promised annihilation of their enemy down the road, Sowell spelled it out: “if the tea party movement within the Republican Party becomes just a rule-or-ruin minority, then they might just as well have formed a separate third party and gone on to oblivion.”
Quin Hillyer of The American Spectator listed a bunch of conservative columnists who supported the Boehner Plan, including “Tea Party favorite Rep. Allen West” and “The Wall Street Journal editorial page,” along with “83 percent of respondents to a National Review Online poll.”
“Simply put, anything which increases Obama’s chances of reelection will more than offset any additional cuts to be gained beyond the Boehner plan,” said William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection, echoing the sentiments of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. While Jacobson admitted the plan was “far from perfect,” he told his fellow conservatives to “keep in mind the end game.”
“To vote against John Boehner on the House floor this week in the biggest showdown of the current Congress is to choose to vote with Nancy Pelosi,” said William Kristol. “To vote against Boehner is to choose to support Barack Obama.” “If Republicans come out of this battle with no new taxes and a plan that reduces the debt as much as the debt limit is increased,” said Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit, “then it is a win for conservatives and the tea party.”
But the blood-and-thunder types still didn’t show much flexibility on the matter. Slamming “so-called Tea Party Republicans like Allen West,” J.J. Jackson of Liberty Reborn said. “Now is the time to call if you haven’t yet and tell the Republicans to vote no on Boehner’s boner of a plan.”
When John McCain denounced the radicals as “Tea Party hobbits,” Tea Party champions like Rand Paul and Sharron Angle denounced the former GOP Presidential candidate right back. Rush Limbaugh announced himself a supporter of “the Tea Party types, the real movement conservatives — we are not stupid, and we’re not gonna buy a bucket of spit just because it’s warm.”
You wouldn’t think the GOP needed to stroke the Tea Party any more than they already have — especially since, their usefulness as a 2010 electoral tool having been served, they seem to be losing the favor of ordinary citizens and receding into the political wilderness.
Nonetheless, to please them Boehner rewrote his plan to include a Balanced Budget Amendment — rather a drastic move for what’s essentially an ordinary budget bill.
Why? Because the Tea People have a habit of targeting Republicans they don’t like — especially at the primary stage. For example, last year they denied Lisa Murkowski the Alaska GOP Senate nomination and threw it to Joe Miller, and denied longtime Delaware GOP favorite Mike Castle the Republican Senate nomination in favor of non-witch Christine O’Donnell. Now they’re going after longtime Senator Orrin Hatch in Utah. Whatever their remaining power may be in general elections, Republicans have call to fear their wrath on home ground.
But it’s not as if the Republicans don’t get something out of the Tea Party, too. Some of their 2010 candidates, like Rand Paul, have come up winners. And if the tea people seem to be pushing the party even further right, it’s not like they mind going that way.
In fact they provide a convenient excuse. It’s like the scene in Blazing Saddles where Black Bart, facing a hostile crowd, points a gun at his own head and cries, “Hold it! Next man makes a move, the n***** gets it!” Boehner got room to play the moderate who was sadly obliged by the crazy guys in his party to act crazy.
While all this was going on, the Democrats controlling the Senate came up with a counter-offer containing extraordinary concessions on cuts and taxes. But so what? The Boehner plan passed in the House, and was killed in the Senate; the Harry Reid plan in the Senate was in turn killed by the House.
What may look to you like stasis, not to say paralysis, looked like victory to Pejman Yousefzadeh. “The Boehner bill was consequential because its passage shows that however difficult the fight, at the end of the day, Speaker Boehner was the master of his caucus,” he wrote. (He took a swipe at the tea people — “one wonders why the Tea Party caucus insisted on a position that not only wouldn’t become law, but would weaken the bargaining position of House Republicans” — but we suspect he was smiling when he wrote it.)
As events percolated over the weekend, rightbloggers paused to assess the situation.
RedState’s Erick Erickson complained that “the problem the GOP has now is that because of where John Boehner led the House, the GOP looks increasingly unwilling to act in a bipartisan way or compromise.” As Erickson had been taking an anti-Boehner, no-surrender stand all along, this seems strange, but never mind — his new advice to Congressional Republicans was to “box the Democrats in” by allowing the debt ceiling to rise but demanding in exchange ” (A) a complete and total repeal of Obamacare or (B) S. J. Res. 10, the Balanced Budget Amendment with the spending limitation and taxpayer protection components… That’d be pretty awesome.” And would, no doubt, sweep away the impression of partisanship.
Victor Davis Hanson explained that the real budget problem was caused by those low-income people who had somehow wrested control of Washington from its rightful owners. “The agenda of the poorer and lower-middle classes is championed mostly by an affluent elite located on the two coasts,” he wrote, “who find power and influence in representing ‘the people’…” These poor and lower-middle-class wastrels, Hanson also informed us, “are naturally desirous of even more entitlements, in the sense that even higher taxes on the top 5 percent might ensure at least some of the needed revenue to pay for them.” He also accused Democrats of creating “a new $200,000 annual-income Mason-Dixon line” based on “class warfare.” As Hanson’s side of that Mason-Dixon line is clear, this was perhaps an unfortunate analogy; or it may have been intentional.
So while the nation at large gaped aghast at the doings in Washington, to rightbloggers it was just what the doctor ordered — a bomb to blow the socialism out of America. And as the debacle has been Congress-centric, it also offered them an opportunity to marginalize President Obama. True, one of Obama’s few advantages has been that voters seem to find him saner than his opponents on the Hill, but the persistence of this crisis hasn’t done his image any favors, and conservatives have used his less showy role as evidence that he could have fixed it if he weren’t incompetent. (Of course, if Obama had used the 14th Amendment as an excuse to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, as some suggested, that would have made him a dictator.)
Their other traditional targets they treated similarly: “We don’t know all the details of the negotiations,” said William Jacobson, “…but one thing is clear, Harry Reid has become a sideshow.”
As the latest deal took shape, some rightbloggers grumbled. “Republicans gave Barack Obama a pass,” claimed Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit. “The deal will last until 2013 after the election.” “Washington politics as usual,” wrote Wizbang. “Smoke and mirror spending cuts while the national debt grows.” Big Government even headlined, “Obama wins!” “Tea party ready for disappointment – and retribution,” reported Politico.
But who knows what they really believe? They’re in for the long game, and if the final deal involved a new Senate seat for the insurance industry and public stonings of Medicaid recipients, there’d still be no point in letting on that they were pleased. So long as one public dollar goes to an indigent, they can’t be satisfied.
During this battle, GOP Senator Pete Sessions defended the Tea Party, saying they “didn’t start this fire — they sounded the alarm.” It could be argued instead that there was no fire — America has been churning massive debt awhile, and is not actually facing imminent collapse — but the alarm was real enough, and caused a stampede in the crowded theater of Congress. And most of them ran in the direction the most extreme members of the Republican Party wanted them to go.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 31, 2011